Children’s Social Care: From San Diego to Somerset

While Americans all over the globe will celebrate Independence Day this weekend (4 July), one US citizen has been telling us about striking out on her own to further her career in social work.

Rechele Ramirez left her big family and supportive friends in California last year and flew to Britain to join Somerset County Council as a Children’s Social Worker. As well as taking on this challenging role and studying for a Post-Graduate Certificate in International Social Work from the University of Southern California (USC), she has also had to deal with the culture shock that is part and parcel of moving abroad.

Coming from another English speaking country, Rechele didn’t think the culture would be that different in Britain. She said: “The first Sunday I was here, I didn’t know that everything shuts down at 4pm. At around 5pm I thought I should probably go to Tesco and get some food, but everything was closed and it was like a ghost town! In the city back home, it’s like instant gratification; anything you want you can get it, you just go to the store.”

It’s not just shop opening times which differ across the pond. Rechele also explained how different the perception of Social Workers is: “The work is admired more in the US; they are respected, you’re proud to call yourself a social worker and you have the community support building you up, whereas here I feel that the community and society in general looks at social workers a little differently.”

The partnership between Somerset County Council and USC provides social workers from the United States with two years of experience in another country. Rechele has worked in South Somerset’s Assessment Team for the past year and is now in the process of moving to the Sedgemoor Children Looked After Team.

Two more social workers will be flying over this year to begin the programme and experience what life is like as a social worker in Somerset. The partnership is mutually beneficial, with Somerset’s Children’s Social Care teams bolstered by diverse staff, who can bring creative and innovative ways of working with them.

“It’s really important for me to understand the family’s perception of social workers. When I go in and I see families who are tense or nervous, instead of carrying on with an assessment I’ll say I can see you’re tense or nervous, tell me what you’re feeling right now, how can we work together. I think it’s really important to validate the family’s feelings. Sometimes I’ll ask them what their experience with social workers is and if they say they have had a negative experience, I’ll ask why. I find if they are able to get it off their chest, you can see them relax and open up.”

Rechele admitted that when she first came here she didn’t have an understanding of Ofsted ratings. Within a few months however she was well versed and has been fully involved in the recent changes taking place to improve Children’s Services in Somerset. She said: “What I’m really impressed with is, after the Ofsted inspection, we got our results and Somerset hit the ground running. Firstly trying to find out what changes needed to be made, and I’ve already seen they are implementing the changes. I can see it happening daily and I’m impressed with how fast it’s going.  I think a year from now it will look very different. They are obviously taking the Ofsted inspection feedback very seriously and it feels good that they are making these positive changes.”

Cllr Frances Nicholson, Somerset County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Families, said: “It is fantastic to hear from our frontline staff that the changes that need to happen are being implemented every day. We are committed to doubling our Children’s Social Care workforce in the next few years and through our partnership with USC we will have two new social workers joining us this year.

“We are ambitious in our plans to improve social work in Somerset, and through this partnership we can also contribute to improving social work on an international level. I’d like to thank Rechele, and all our staff who are working so hard to make a difference for all our children and young people.”

Dr Cherrie Short, CBE, Professor of Practice, Associate Dean, Global & Community Initiatives for the School of Social Work at USC, said: “The MSW Postgraduate Certificate Program in International Social Work Practice between the USC School of Social Work and Somerset has been a ground-breaking achievement.  This has been accomplished through the mutual benefit that Somerset gains from receiving our highly-qualified social workers who deliver excellent professional services in their communities, while at the same time, our social workers gain a two-year immersion into the UK social welfare profession through the exchanging of ideas, learning new ways of theory and practice in social work, and completing a comparative research study that benefit both partners.  Rechele positively characterises this unique opportunity through the collaboration of our partnership and demonstrates that this can be achieved.

“Somerset as a County Council has shown the importance of international collaboration and what can be achieved when we think globally in the areas of social work as it gives us a wider perspective on understanding the services we deliver and the practices we seek to implement.”

With one year left of her placement, Rechele isn’t sure if she will be ready to leave Somerset. She said: “Who knows what will happen when the two year programme is finished? Somerset itself is just absolutely beautiful, and I have formed a little family in England. I have a huge support system at home but I have met such amazing people here who I can’t imagine not knowing now. Maybe I’ll stay a little longer than the two years!”

The University of Southern California works with various council’s across the UK for their Master of Social Work Post-Graduate Certificate Programme.

The programme provides the participants with opportunities for personal growth and professional development and in turn, the councils involved acquire social workers with advanced training in social work practice and research skills who have strong backgrounds in child welfare and mental health.

Many participants are asked by their council to remain in the United Kingdom after they complete the programme.